In re Selena O.

Connecticut Appellate Court

December 4, 2007

Termination of Parental Rights 

In this unusual case, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s denial of the state’s TPR petition. The appellate court held that the trial court’s decision that the state failed to make its “failure to rehabilitate” case was clearly erroneous. The appellate court remanded for further proceedings.

In this case, the respondent mother had a long history with DCF, and she struggled with substance abuse and domestic violence issues before and after DCF took her children away in 2004. In early 2005, DCF filed a motion to terminate the mother’s parental rights, and trial started in December, 2005, with additional dates in January, March and May, 2006.

In January, 2006, the mother, now in the early stages of pregnancy, began a drug rehabilitation program at ADRC in Hartford. Twenty-eight days later, the mother entered a residential mother/child substance-abuse treatment program. During the March trial dates, the court heard testimony that the mother was engaged in services at Coventry House, and that the residential program typically lasted between 9 and 12 months.

Testimony in the trial continued in May. In June, 2006, DCF made a motion to “open the evidence,” which was objected to by the mother’s attorney. DCF withdrew its motion in July. In September, the trial court orally issued its decision to deny the TPR petition. The court observed that the mother had made substantial strides with her sobriety since the beginning of the TPR trial, and that she had been compliant with the Coventry House program for nine months. On the basis of these facts, the court ruled that the mother may achieve personal rehabilitation within the statutory timeframe. Accordingly, the court denied the state’s TPR petition and this appeal followed.

The appellate court ruled that the key fact that the trial court relied on, i.e. that the mother was in Coventry House for 9 months, was not a fact in evidence, because the only evidence that judge had that mom was in Coventry House was offered during the March trial date, at which time she had only been in the treatment program for about two months. So, the key fact in the court’s decision was speculative. Further, the appellate court took judicial notice of the fact that DCF was granted emergency custody of the mother’s newborn baby in early September, 2006, weeks prior to the trial court’s denial of the TPR petition. The appellate decision footnotes reveal that the mother was discharged from Coventry House by the end of June, 2006 due to her noncompliance with program requirements, and that when she gave birth to her new baby, the child’s meconium tested positive for cocaine. Accordingly, the key fact that the trial court relied on was not only speculative, but erroneous. It is unclear why the trial court was unaware of the mother’s relapse, her eviction from Coventry House or the state’s recent removal of the mother’s newborn baby.

In sum, the appellate court held that because trial court’s decision rested on speculative and erroneous facts, the decision must be reversed.

 

 

 

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